Just Say No

Originally written in 1993.  This story was one of my dad’s favorites to tell about me.  After a while the embarrassment wore off, as I just grew used to the idea of complete strangers to me (yet friends with dad) asking me if I had kotex…

In March of 1993 I traveled to Moscow, Russia to perform in a musical drama (or “Passion Play”) on the life of Jesus Christ known to locals in Glen Rose, Texas as “The Promise”.  I was 27. It was the first time I had been to the former Soviet Union and didn’t know quite what to expect.  About one hour or so before the plane was scheduled to land, our flight attendant handed customs declarations to us to complete.  One of the questions on it pertained to narcotics, to which I was not in possession, so I marked “none”.  Content that it was filled out correctly I put it away and tried to get some sleep.  Sleep sometimes doesn’t come for me on an airplane, however, and I couldn’t help overhear how others around me were discussing the declaration.  They were being incredibly detailed on the items they were bringing into the country.  Hmm…  Convinced I needed to list all the “over the counter” medicine I had with me, I scratched out the word “none” under narcotics and carefully wrote in each one.  Tylenol, Imodium…

It must have been three or four hours later that we were finally in the last leg of what seemed the slowest possible customs process ever.  Relieved that the end was in sight, I handed my passport, visa, and the dreaded customs declaration to the young customs guard on duty.  I was so tired. Narcotics was the furthest thing from my mind.  If anything, I was thinking of how dreary their airport seemed, wondering what on earth they had used to decorate their ceiling with (I later heard it was shell casings).  So, when the guard in his heavy Russian accent posed the question “Do you have narcotics?”, well it was only natural for this naïve southern girl to misunderstand.  After all, I am the daughter of the one they call “Gracie” (after Gracie Allen).  I was so positive I had heard the guard ask me something about kotex, so I asked him to repeat the question.

“Do you have narcotics”?

Well there it was again as plain as day!  I just heard him ask “do you have no kotex”?  Why on earth would he want to know something as ridiculous as that?  Do they have a shortage of them over here, I wondered?  I’d be happy to send some back when I returned home again…  Well, I had the gut feeling I still had misunderstood, but decided I was much too embarrassed to ask him to repeat the question a third time.  So, hesitatingly, I answered “yes, I have kotex”.

I knew I must have answered wrong when the stone faced guard half way cracked a smile for the first time, and Penny (the gal in front of me) turned and gasped “WHAT DID YOU SAY”?

“Well”, I responded, “he wants to know if I have kotex, and so I told him I did”.  “Somehow I don’t think that is what he was asking”, she said!  Turning to the guard, who was almost laughing now, she asked for the question to be repeated.

“DO YOU HAVE NARCOTICS, N A R – C O – T I C S?” he asked again, in a way that pronounced us stupid.  To which I guess I was in the  moment because I still heard him ask for kotex!  Fortunately Penny understood and was happy to translate.  GASP! “NO”, I said, “only things like Tylenol, and…”

“TYLENOL is NOT Narcotics” abruptly said the perturbed but amused guard, “now GO”!

And that was the end of my first customs experience in Moscow.


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